Jesus gives us an example, a commandment, a mandatum: “wash one another’s’ feet”. Tonight’s Washing of Feet will remember Jesus’ action. “How, in our daily lives, can we wash one another’s feet?” Jesus’ words and action are more than exhortation. It is what love does.
God is Love. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, because God is Love. It is what Love does.
Love clearly saw the apostles as needy. Love didn’t see them as “future princes of the Church” but weak men needing help; needing inspiration. Love foresaw their unfaithfulness in the coming storm, but still loved them. Jesus’ love even for Judas is clear, as he offered him the morsel of bread, dipped in the dish; a chance to repent.
Insofar as we act out of love, we do what God does. We invite God into our lives. Jesus loved Judas, even as Judas’ kiss betrayed him. Jesus loved Peter at the moment of denial; Jesus loved Nicodemus in his hesitant following; Thomas in his doubting; criminals crucified alongside him – one friendly, one aggressive; Saul who persecuted him. Even his victorious persecutors: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”.
Today’s focus is not on ourselves, as needy men and women, like the disciples. We are invited to watch Love in action. As we watch, we cannot fail to let this Love penetrate our hearts and minds; to follow its movement and note that all the love and goodness that comes down from above flows out to the needy; near and afar; young and old, Jew and Greek, Muslim and Christian. This is what God does. This is what Love does. This is what Christians do. Watching, may we learn and do likewise.
Ian Tomlinson SJ
“Now my soul is troubled. Father, save me from this hour!” Do these words recall similar passages from scripture? These words of John’s Gospel resemble the Agony in the Garden of Matthew, Mark and Luke. “My soul is sorrowful even to the point of death” (Mark 14: 34). Also, our second reading today (Hebrews) reads: “During his life on earth, Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had power to save him out of death …” Jesus knew distress of mind and soul, worry and agony, as do we.
Why does today’s liturgy focus on the theme of agony? The grain of wheat must die before it yields a rich harvest. The man who loves his life must hate his life in this world in order to enter into eternal life. Jesus’ agony is a powerful Holy Week theme.
Why do I focus on Jesus’ agony? Distress of mind and soul, worry and agony loom large in pastoral practice. Crucifixion, thankfully, is not regularly encountered. Agony is met in various forms. We speak of an experience being sheer agony. We talk of agonising moments; of agony and ecstasy. Some newspapers offer agony aunts. Christ’s death on the cross is, of course, at the centre of our salvation. However, the agony in the garden, as an experience, is perhaps something we more easily understand and therefore share with Christ.
Uniting ourselves, imaginatively, in our moments of distress with Christ’s agony in the garden may assuage our suffering. Repeating slowly “Now my soul is troubled …” the words of Christ our Saviour may help our troubles somehow mature and yield a rich harvest.
In Mark, sorrowful and fearful of the cup he must drink, Jesus prays his way to a deep sense of obedience to the Father’s will. Today in John Christ ends with a wonderful phrase from the depths of his hour of suffering “Father, glorify your name”.
Ian Tomlinson SJ
I once used John 3: 16-17 as a computer password. “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son” and “God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved”. Do any other verses express more exquisitely, more powerfully God’s desire to forgive; God’s desire to save? It was an easy reference/ password to remember.
Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus. Nicodemus appears to be a disciple “only by half”, as Gregory Nazianzen puts it. His was only a “partial” faith. Nicodemus doesn’t reject Jesus as many of the other leaders. However, he cannot go beyond the limits of his experience; beyond what he can control; beyond what he is comfortable with.
What about our own faith? Have we settled on a comfortable plateau? Do we long for a growth in faith? Are we men and women who prefer darkness to light? No! But are we open to the Spirit from above; ever seeking truth; letting the gift of baptism mature; excited about getting to know a God never outdone in love, generosity and mercy?
Nicodemus’ faith developed. When the chief Priests and Pharisees denounced Jesus, Nicodemus courageously pointed out that the law did not judge a person without giving him a hearing. After Jesus’ death he helped Joseph of Arimethea at some personal risk to bury the body. Not a vibrant faith! But is our faith developing likewise? What could we do deepen our faith?
“We are God’s work of art …” A beautiful phrase! All cultures rightly appreciate art. Human beings are sculptured by God’s love; fashioned by a creativity that captures something of the divine in the human.
This is to go beyond anything Nicodemus understood. It opens for us the possibility that Christ’s life might dwell in us and we in Christ. There can only be one response to God’s mighty works within us – gratitude. A true sense of gratitude to God for all God’s gifts cannot but increase our faith.
Ian Tomlinson SJ
Today Jesus is in the most sacred place of the Holy City – the Temple, on the day Jerusalem was celebrating its most solemn feast, the Passover. The temple is seen as a sacred place, a sacred building. Then Jesus calls it “my Father’s house”; going beyond Jewish usage. Finally temple means his body; living water would flow from Jesus’ pierced body on the cross. Jesus would become the source of eternal life for those who believe.
Jesus’ powerful action (driving the buyers and sellers out of the Temple) and his powerful words (“destroy my body and in three days I will raise it up”) are a statement to his enemies that things must change. Rules and buildings will no longer be central to religion. Faith, belief in Jesus – this will be key. Later when it came to the crunch, Jesus died and was raised to life, but still his enemies would not believe.
Saint Paul puts it this way. The Jews demand miracles; the Greeks wisdom; but we preach a crucified Christ. Today, as then, many see belief in a crucified Christ as an obstacle; as madness. No doubt, some would be happy with a risen Christ but not the crucifixion.
People today suffer in different ways. Some will suffer much less than Jesus but some suffer as he did. In essence, Jesus’ suffering came about because he preached the truth in a world where those in power did not want the truth. The circumstances could have been different. They were for Mary. Her suffering was to watch her Son suffer.
We should, of course, seek to alleviate suffering. For example, we take a sick child to the doctor. But the wisdom of God suggests that obedience to circumstances, obedience to what God is asking of us, as with the crucified Christ, is the way to happiness now that endures for ever; to eternal life.
Ian Tomlinson SJ
We began Lent with dirty black ashes (crosses) on our foreheads. Last Sunday we were with Jesus in the dusty desert. Today, describing the dazzling beauty of the Divine, Mark struggles with washing powder imagery. Yet here truly is a glimpse of Divinity. Dazzling white garments reveal the glory of the one who wears them. Mountains are places of divine communication; clouds of divine presence and glory. Above all, that rare moment of the voice of God, “This is my Son …”
The human and tempted Jesus of last Sunday is now indisputably divine. Human and Divine: this is the Jesus we believe in. Recognisable, yet mysterious; thought provoking; “Is God really concerned with us puny little human beings?” On the other hand, if Divinity beckons, where might it lead? Where might it end?”
At a concert recently I was privileged to listen to Vaughan William’s, The Lark Ascending; the violin capturing the songbird’s cascading voice; beautiful, yet fainter, as the bird ascends. One is drawn onwards and upwards. The Divine beckons. Yet with the rapturous applause of the audience, I crashed back to earth, like Peter on the mountain, when, the vision gone, looking round, he saw “only Jesus”.
Jesus is embarked on a journey to Jerusalem; then through death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. A journey in line with the obedience and trust Abraham placed in God. A journey undertaken (as Saint Paul says today) out of love for us. It seems Jesus wants to take us all the way with him to the right hand of the Father. But why? Why not corral us in a secure human paradise free from nasty serpents. It seems that our hearts will not rest until they find their rest in God (Saint Augustine). Is this true of your heart? Does the Divine beckon, and, if so, why?
Ian Tomlinson SJ
“Man’s glory is to remain steadfast, firm, focused in the service of God”(St Irenaeus).
The large numbers attending mass on Ash Wednesday gave witness to our determination to deepen our faith during the forty days of Lent; a time already consecrated by Jesus’ forty days in the desert.
Jesus is driven into the wilderness (desert) by God’s Spirit. Jesus needed forty days in the wilderness, before proclaiming the “Good News”. Writing last week, Bishop John Arnold suggested we find a quiet place at home, a corner, a chair; a dedicated space for prayer. We can add this church and the chaplaincy chapel. Simple silent prayer will deepen our faith. It enables the soul to embrace God; to be embraced by God.
“Do you really believe that Jesus was tempted by Satan?” Tempted, just as we are? The divine/ human person of Jesus is a mystery of our faith. Mysteries of our faith are not puzzles. They are an invitation to a deeper faith. Here the invitation is to linger long on the fact that Jesus as a human being could be tempted. The more we come to realise Jesus shared our human nature, the more we will come to love him.
Many people suffer brutal deaths. Jesus was brutally crucified. Anxiety and terror can destroy peoples’ lives. Jesus suffered likewise in Gethsemane. Sadness and disillusionment! Jesus wept with such emotions over Jerusalem. Jesus understood Jairus’ sorrow at his daughter’s death; the shame of the woman taken in adultery; the embarrassment at Cana’s Wedding Feast, when the wine ran out!
The Old Testament begins with the destruction of Paradise in Genesis: Adam and Eve, the deceitful serpent, temptation given into, God. Mark’s “Good News” (the New Testament): Jesus, Satan, temptations – this time resisted; friendly wild beasts, the Holy Spirit, helpful angels. Paradise restored. Humanity back on track! Let us anchor our faith firmly in Jesus our Saviour, who suffered and was tempted as we are.
Ian Tomlinson SJ
Ian Tomlinson SJ